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A classic tale returns

By Chen Nan| China Daily| Updated: January 4, 2024 L M S


Russian musical Anna Karenina, adapted from Leo Tolstoy's iconic novel of the same title, is touring Chinese cities. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Russian musical Anna Karenina goes back to its story of origin as it begins a tour of Chinese theaters, Chen Nan reports.

In 2022, when the performing arts scene in China was facing the unprecedented challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese and Russian artists worked together to bring out a Chinese version of the Russian musical Anna Karenina, which toured China and became a hit.

Now, as everything returns to normal and live performances are booming once more, the original version of the Russian musical is on tour in China.

From Dec 1 to Jan 27, the Russian musical visits nine cities, including Beijing, Harbin in Heilongjiang province, Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and the Sichuan provincial capital, Chengdu.

"We released the Chinese version of the musical Anna Karenina during the pandemic," says the Russian director of the musical, Alina Chevik.

"I could not come to China, so I attended rehearsals online. That was the main difficulty of the work, which was an unforgettable experience.

"I believe that art has no boundaries. We may speak different languages, but when we become one team, burning with one idea and dedicated to one task, all our differences become insignificant. We have many differences in understanding the work process, but the fact that we are willing to meet each other in solving any problems is very valuable and is the main thing in any collaboration."

The musical, Anna Karenina, was adapted from Leo Tolstoy's iconic novel, and follows the dramatic and ill-fated love story between the married protagonist and a dashing military officer, Alexey Vronsky. The characters struggle with overwhelming love and betrayal, passion and duty, hope and desperation.

Directed by Chevik and choreographed by Irina Korneeva, the Russian musical premiered in 2016 in Moscow with a score by Roman Ignatyev and a libretto by Yuri Kim. Over 40 songs of the musical feature a wide range of genres, such as pop, rock and opera. The choreography also covers different styles, such as classical ballet and contemporary dance.

The main location of the musical is a train and many scenes take place against the backdrop of the train and the railway station. Throughout the performance, a huge wheel suspended from the ceiling turns, which serves a reminder of the destiny and fate of the protagonist.

The director says that she first read the novel in school and the inner struggles of the married and in-love Anna Karenina were "incomprehensible" to her at that time.

"Several years later, I read the novel again. Then, every one of her actions irritated me, and I hated her with all my soul. Before the staging, I read the novel once more, and suddenly I felt sorry for Anna. It seemed to me that I understood her passionate protest. I felt as if I sensed her desire to be happy. I understood that there is a bit of Anna Karenina in every woman. I understood, accepted, and loved her," Chevik says.

"Tolstoy's novel is vast. Of course, we had to sacrifice some characters and plotlines," the director adds." Our librettist and poet Yuri Kim did an excellent job. We strengthened Anna's storyline, bringing her to the forefront, which allowed for a greater understanding of her tragedy."

As a director, Chevik says that she is a "sincere follower" of Stanislavsky's system (highly influential system of theater training developed over years of trial and error by the Russian actor, producer, and theoretician Konstantin Stanislavsky).

"For me, the most important thing is the truthful existence of the actor onstage, the honesty of their experiences and emotions. In my musicals, I try to combine the classical Russian school of experiential theater with the visual effectiveness and technological sophistication of the show," Chevik says.

Anfisa Kirillina, who plays the titular role in the musical, says that "Anna is sensitive and brave. Before she met Vronsky, she didn't understand love, even though she got married and became a mother. Love means the whole world to her so she decided to leave her husband and her child to pursue her true love. At the same time, she is fearful and struggles inside. Her fate is tragic, but that's her choice. Her character is rich in complexity."

During the Beijing stop, six shows were staged within four days, from Friday to Monday, attracting packed audiences who celebrated the new year by having a theater experience.

"The most striking part of the production was the sets and costumes, which evoked the lavish excess of the 19th-century Russian aristocracy," says an audience member surnamed Mo, who watched the original version of the Russian musical in Beijing on Friday.

"The scenery in the musical transitions seamlessly from the train station to the concert hall and the ice rink. I really enjoyed this reimagining of the timeless classic," Mo adds.

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